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U.S. EPA recognizes Northern Kentucky for air quality improvement

yellow arched bridge seen from below through autumn trees with dark clouds
Michael Bowman
Now that Northern Kentucky is in attainment, the entire Cincinnati OH-KY Area is in attainment.

The U.S. EPA last month approved Kentucky's request to redesignate a portion of Northern Kentucky to attainment for certain air quality standards.

The change brings the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky area — comprised of Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties in Ohio and the northern portions of Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties in Kentucky — into compliance with the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The NAAQS limits six pollutants that cause smog and acid rain, among other health hazards.

"It means that the area now has clean data when it comes to the ozone," says Andy Reser, manager of transportation programing for the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments. "They meet all federal standards for air quality; ozone is just one of them. There's other standards for lead and carbon monoxide and a few others. This is just for ozone, but they've already met the other standards previously."

The Cincinnati side was classified as reaching attainment in 2022. The Cincinnati OH-KY area was designated as “nonattainment” in August 2018. Kentucky asked to be reclassified in September 2022 after it reported achieving acceptable NAAQS levels.

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"There's definitely been a lot of improvements as far as tailpipe emissions with newer vehicles and cleaner standards for newer vehicles," says Reser. "Those are now becoming commonplace in fleets so that definitely helps air quality. What also helps is reduction in emissions from power plants. There's been improvements from that category in recent years, and all of that's helped to have the cleaner data at the monitors."

In a release, he also credited "roundabouts, bus replacements, bicycle and pedestrian initiatives, lefthand turn additions" and other transportation initiatives for the improved air quality.

Reser says monitors around the region collect air quality data. That data is then used to determine if a region is in compliance with the federal standards. Three years of “clean” data are needed for a region to apply to be redesignated as in attainment, he says.

The pandemic may also have helped, he acknowledges, given how many people were staying home and not driving, reducing the region's emissions load. That said, he says forecast models from OKI indicate attainment is sustainable.

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"Forecasting into the future with the expected driving and the expected vehicles that are on the road, (we) were able to forecast that we should remain below the standard — meaning we should be able to maintain the standard — throughout the next 10 years," Reser says.

In a release from the U.S. EPA earlier this month, Kentucky Division for Air Quality Director Michael Kennedy said, "Air quality continues to improve in northern Kentucky and across the commonwealth. From better business practices to cleaner buses and cars, our efforts to reduce pollutants that contribute to ground-level ozone have paid off."

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.